WTO and Genetically Modified Food

The United States, Argentina, and Canada have decided to proceed with the formal trade complaint against Europe over its position on genetically modified (GM) foods. In response, the World Trade Organization announced the three panelists that will preside over this politically-charged trade dispute. Following WTO procedures, the dispute will be conducted behind closed doors with no official opportunities for the public or civil society to be involved, even though they will be ruling over what we should eat in the future.

A decision can be expected by the end of the year, possibly ruling against people’s health and the environment, because under the WTO the protection of both is not enough reason to prevent the use of GMOs. Europe would either face billions of Euros in penalty tariffs or have to weaken its rules on the use of GMOs.

The fact that there may be a WTO decision against Europe’s restrictions over GMOs scares the European Commission, who is now caving in under WTO pressure. The European Commission has announced that, in response to the pending WTO complaint, it will lift the de facto Moratorium on the approval of new GMOs, whether EU member states agree or not, and also put pressure on EU member states to lift national bans on GMOs (such as those in Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Greece and the UK). This ignores more than 70 per cent of Europeans who do not want GMOs.

In the meantime, big US agri-business is not satisfied with the current WTO case. Instead, they are again lurking around the US government, demanding to launch another complaint against the new EU GMO labeling rules that will enter into effect in April 2004. The labeling rules would make it difficult to sell GMO products because people would have the freedom to choose. Their recent letter to President Bush implies that allowing people to choose what they eat would again be in conflict with global free trade rules: “[The new labeling and traceability laws] are non-tariff trade barriers that violate World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations and will result in significant losses to the U.S. and agriculture industry. […] [We] believe it is time to engage the EU in a WTO dispute settlement proceeding, and we urge that you initiate such action immediately”.

At the end of 2003 and in early 2004, a giant inflatable tomato traveled around Europe, raising awareness on the risks of genetically modified food and farming and collecting thousands of Citizens’ Objections. The tour began in Brussels, when the Commission failed to convince EU ministers to lift the moratorium. It then visited the European Social Forum in Paris and continued its tour to 13 cities around Europe. Currently, the tomato is on tour in Germany and will later be seen in the Netherlands. Pictures from the tour are available here.


We would like to ask for your support and signature on the citizen’s objection to this trade dispute. So far over 350 organizations, representing over 35 million people, have signed the objection, as well as over 30,000 individuals including Desmond Tutu and Jose Bove. Now that the WTO complaint has turned into a full-blown trade dispute we would like to increase the amount of support.

Show your support by signing the Citizens Objection. You might also encourage your friends and associates to sign-in.